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Persevering right up to the end

Doctors from around the country contacted Linda expressing interest in her husband's story and offering up their services. She chose the world-famous Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. However, right before Donny set off for Chicago, he experienced an unfortunate setback, hitting his head after falling in the nursing home. He was rushed to ECMC with a gash that required stitches.

It is believed that he had another burst of cognition in the middle of the night and that he must have tried to get up from his bed when the mishap occurred. Later, the injury would be found to be more severe than initially thought. Follow-up CT scans revealed bleeding on the brain, exacerbated by the air pressure on the flight from Buffalo to Chicago. Progress, already slowing, declined further.

Donny spoke far less frequently; in truth, his subsequent communications were nothing like that incredible first day, but he was still visibly fighting. In Chicago, Linda had stayed in his room, sleeping on a loveseat. She saw just how hard Donny worked, just how tired he really was. She went through entire days with him, unbearably grueling therapy, hours and hours of it, feedings, changings, speech rehab, examinations. For Donny, every single thing seemed a Herculean labor. But he didn't give up.

By the end of the summer of 2005, Donny had slipped away again. He was transferred to St. Camillus Health and Rehabilitation Center in Syracuse for further therapy; at least it was closer to Buffalo. But when Donny regressed further, back to the point where he was before his reawakening, Linda found the closest nursing home she could, Ridgeview Manor, on the corner of Dorrance and McKinley in South Buffalo, a five-minute drive from her home.

And then, sudden and swift, on a Saturday evening in late February 2006, Donny Herbert came down with pneumonia and spiked a fever. He was rushed to Mercy Hospital and drenched in ice. Right away Linda had a bad feeling. His breathing was shallow, and his doctors looked worried.

She called the boys one at a time, urging them to come visit their father. In spite of her growing concern that this could be the end, Linda did not tip her hand. He'd pull through, she thought. But when Donny's temperature reached 105 degrees, despite the ice-down and a flurry of antibiotics, Linda knew. She just knew.

The following Monday afternoon, she called Tommy, who was now a police officer in Atlanta.

"You'd better come home," Linda said. "I don't know if your dad is going to make it this time."

With Linda and the last of his four boys by his side, Donny Herbert finally gave up. He passed away on Tuesday, Feb. 21, just before 2 a.m. He was 44 years old.
No one who witnessed it will ever forget the day Donny Herbert woke up. Whether it was Dr. Ahmed's drug cocktail, the intercession of Father Baker, an act of God himself, or a combination of all three, Linda tends to credit Donny. It was Donny who overcame a brain that did not work, Donny who had the strength and the love to will himself back into his family's lives, if only momentarily.

On a bitterly cold Sunday in January 2007, nearly a year after Donny's death, Linda Herbert attended the 11 o'clock Mass at St. Agatha's Church. It was no basilica, but it was comforting. She found herself listening intently to one of the readings, 1 Corinthians 12:3113:13, one she had heard many times before, primarily at weddings. In fact, it had been a reading at her own wedding 25 years earlier.

"In this life we have three lasting qualities -- faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."

It had, in all honesty, not meant very much to her back then. Of course she and Donny loved each other. But now as the priest, Father Adolph, expounded upon the theme of faith, hope, and love in his sermon, Linda was moved, not by closure -- she would never get over losing Donny -- but by a feeling that was closer to a moment of clarity.

After everything Linda had been through, those words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians truly resonated. She did have faith; she did have hope. And Donny's love did come through in the end -- for her and her boys.

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Buffalo Firefighter Donald J. Herbert suffered a severe brain injury while fighting a fire in December 1995. A decade later, he emerged from a comalike condition and talked coherently with family and friends. The News is printing three excerpts from the book, "The Day Donny Herbert Woke Up," a nonfiction work by author Rich Blake and published by Harmony Books. This is the third excerpt.

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